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How to enhance academic conferences with trends from the wider event industry

09th June 2017

Senate House’s location at the heart of the academic community in Bloomsbury means that conferences are a regular feature of our events programme.

In this post, we take a closer look at how the traditional format of the academic conference can benefit from innovations in the wider events industry. 

What does an academic conference look like?

An academic conference normally begins with researchers submitting their papers, abstracts and posters. These are then arranged into sessions by the conference organiser. They will look at programming these sessions around the same theme and linking the topics together.

The format of the conference will be built around these themes and sessions, with Q&A sessions taking place after each talk to provide valuable feedback. The sessions will be broken-up with workshops, networking, drinks and prizes to complete the event.

The exchange of ideas, peer-review, debate and making new contacts is the predominant aim of an academic conference.

We take a look at how academic conferences could benefit from three trends in the wider event industry:

Digitalisation

How digitalised are academic conferences?

The level of digitalisation depends primarily on the field or academic sector you work in. Perhaps understandably, the Design field is seeing the most innovation with a strong digital influence impacting the style of these conferences.

It’s common to be asked to submit a paper or abstract electronically, whether via email or through an online platform. Once the submissions have been confirmed, they may well be published in an online journal or conference program.

A presenter armed with a power-point presentation and their own voice is no longer the main delivery style at conferences. The presentation format is benefiting from digital technology.

Easy to use software such as Knovio and Zentation have transformed presentations into engaging visual experiences complete with moving elements. Speakers with wireless remotes can seamlessly switch slides delivering a slick and powerful talk.

Social media is regularly used to talk about and promote a conference throughout its lifecycle. It can also be used as a key channel to facilitate engagement and interaction between delegates.

How can these trends be built upon?

Social media usage is wide-spread and constantly evolving. Staying up-to-date with the latest platforms and opportunities is important to academic conferences.  

Twitter is already being used at conferences to encourage comments and opinion sharing during sessions. This could be taken a step further in the academic environment by using a Twitter wall application such as CrowdScreen to display delegate questions and responses. These digital displays can be located in your main auditorium or in networking spaces to inspire, encourage debate and entertain.

People at a panel discussion

Facebook has a lot of potential as a lower cost marketing channel. If the budget for your conference is largely allocated to the venue or catering, it can be a cost-effective way of increasing exposure.

Using only a small proportion of your overall budget, you can use Facebook advertising to push out your event directly. You can do this from your Facebook page, whether it’s a dedicated Academic School page or simply the main University one.

Using the Facebook paid advertising functionality enables you to target people at a very granular level.  Learn more about how Facebook can work for your conference.

What is the future of digitalisation for these academic gatherings?

It’s not always possible for academics to attend all the conferences that they want. As well as being increasingly time poor, the costs involved in travel especially overseas can rule out some conferences.

That’s why the live streaming of talks is a practical and popular solution. Event organisers are using live streaming software alongside HD cameras to stream sessions for remote viewing. People can then access the stream through various devices, using mobile tools such as Facebook live or Periscope. The filming of events in this way also makes it easier to make video recordings of the sessions available post-conference.  

Read up on the top 5 tools to live stream your event. It also enables busy academics to double book themselves. In theory, they could attend one event, whilst tuning into key talks from another.

Sharing presentations after or during the day is vital, with sites such as Slide Share, providing a quick and easy way to exchange your research. Get a run down of the best sharing platforms to improve idea sharing at your academic conference.

New Technology

What new technologies are already used?

A conference with its own bespoke app is usually a sign of a well-organised and high quality event. More academic symposiums are using apps to help deliver engaging experiences for attendees.

A conference app can hold all the important information in one place. The itinerary can be easily accessed, perfect whilst navigating around a bustling venue, or for reading up on the schedule on your inward journey. A conference app such as Crowd Compass can organise both the event and the content it produces.

You can use the app to share up-to-date details of the sessions as well as display venue maps, directions to the venue and regular photographic updates. An app can also hold information about each speaker, linking out to their previous academic work and provide live conference updates via a Twitter feed.

An event app can also enable delegates to share snippets of information, photos and sessions they’re attending on social media. Interactive voting through the main conference app or a subsidiary one is becoming more common too.

What’s the future of technology at Academic conferences?

An app can take the entire conference into a digital format, ideal if you’re running a large international event. Going paper free is good for the environment and avoids the hassle of reprinting programs to accommodate last minute changes.

The future of apps will focus on more interactivity and new ways to engage attendees. These include carrying out surveys via the conference app during a session to provide instant feedback and pose questions. Some apps even transform mobile devices into microphones to allow delegates to be audible from the seats with minimal effort.

There is potential to use mobile devices to make detailed notes on the presentation as the session is delivered. These can then be easily shared or referred back to at a later date.   

Format of Information Delivery

What format of delivery is the most common?

The way information is delivered at academic conferences is changing.  Of course the traditional lecture format is still used, but events are also seeing a move towards more interactive and innovative styles of delivery.

We are seeing more workshops and breakout sessions running alongside the main conference presentations. Networking is also being encouraged with more scheduled breaks and consideration of how attendees flow and interact with the event space. As discussed technology is making the presentation of papers more engaging.

At conferences running for longer than a day for example, it’s not unusual to have a trip out of the campus or venue to a site of special interest.  Walking workshops are also becoming more popular and allow an afternoon session to become more dynamic, reducing the risk of audience disengagement.

Senate House Meeting Room

How can this evolve?

Although the overarching structure of a conference needs to centre around the key sessions, it can be disrupted elsewhere. There is real potential for the session format to become more natural and less formal. Sprinkle the day with workshops and networking breaks.

With the advent of un-conferences in the wider event industry, we will see more unstructured and informal sessions. These will be less formal and stuffy, with an organic and natural approach.

At a panel discussion, which may lose momentum or focus, you could use interactive software to ‘crowd-source’ the questions, so making your audience an active rather than passive set of listeners. An application such as Sli.do enables everyone to login in from any sort of device and ask questions live during the session.

Rather than a speaker holding a session in which they simply deliver a paper and then open up the floor for questions, you could organise what’s called a ‘Fireside chat’. This is a more relaxed format popular amongst literary events and trade shows. A moderator engages the speaker in a question and answer conversation, which showcases their knowledge and research.

What can Academic Conferences take from the events industry?

It’s vital for academic conferences to maintain the high level of knowledge exchange, critical engagement and future planning within a given field.

Using social media and other digital platforms for sharing information and marketing your conference is a great way to enhance this process.  A conference app and other event apps could dramatically reduce the legwork that goes into organising a conference, both in the lead up and on the day itself. Mixing up the delivery format of the sessions could really boost the way in which knowledge is exchanged.

At Senate House Events our in-house events team is always on hand to make sure your conference or symposium goes off without a hitch, available to help with catering, printing, photography and all technology needs.  Get in touch today on 020 7862 8127 or make an online enquiry.

Posted by
Charlie Vernon
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